Summary: 6- to 9-month-olds can form memories of masked faces and recognize faces when the mask is removed.

Source: UC Davis

Babies learn by looking at human faces, leading many parents and early childhood professionals to worry about the potential developmental harm of face coverings during the pandemic.

A new study by researchers at the University of California, Davis, eases those concerns, finding that 6- to 9-month-olds can remember masked faces and recognize those faces when they are revealed.

Michael DeBolt, a doctoral candidate in cognitive psychology, and Lisa Oakes, a professor in the Department of Psychology and Center for Mind and Brain, used eye tracking to show that masks affect infants’ face recognition.

In the study, 58 children, each seated on a parent’s lap or in a high chair, were shown masked and unmasked female faces on a computer screen; Cameras also record where they are seen. Because babies stay with unfamiliar images longer, the researchers can show familiar faces, DeBolt said.

The findings are in a paper published in the January/February special issue ChildhoodFocusing on the impact of Covid-19 on infant development.

The experiment was conducted at the Oakes Children’s Cognition Lab at the Mind and Brain Center in Davis, California, from late December 2021 to late March 2022, amid statewide mask mandates and the introduction of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

“When babies learn a masked face, and then see that face unmasked again, they recognize it,” DeBolt said.

However, when the order was reversed, infants did not show strong recognition of masked faces that they first saw uncovered. DeBolt said it was similar to her own experience of not instantly recognizing her friend while wearing a face mask.

It shows a woman in a face mask
“When babies learn a masked face, and then see that face unmasked again, they recognize it,” DeBolt said. The image is in the public domain.

Learning faces is central to helping babies learn to talk, recognize emotions, bond with their caregivers and explore their environment, Oakes said. “So people were very concerned about face masks and the effect they might have on the way infants learn about human faces.

Oakes, an expert on early cognitive development, said the research showed that infants have a remarkable ability to adapt. “I think it’s very comforting for parents in general,” she said. “Children all over the world grow and develop.

She added: “There are so many differences in children’s everyday experiences. “As long as they’re well cared for and fed and given love and attention, they thrive. We can get into a mode where we think that the way we do things is the best way to do things, and that anything different is going to be a problem. And obviously that’s not the case.”

So neurodevelopmental research news

Author: Kathleen Case
Source: UC Davis
Contact: Kathleen Holder – UC Davis
Image: The image is in the public domain.

Preliminary study: Closed access.
Effects of face masks on infant face learning: An eye-tracking study“By Michaela C. DeBolt et al. Childhood

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Effects of face masks on infant face learning: An eye-tracking study

This pre-registered study examined how face masks affect face memory in a North American sample of 6- to 9-month-old infants (N = 58) were born during the Covid-19 pandemic. Infants’ memory was tested using a standard visual paired comparison (VPC) task.

We crossed whether faces were masked or not during familiarization and test, creating four different trial types (masked-familiarization/masked-trial, masked-familiarization/masked-trial, masked-familiarization/unmasked-test, and masked-familiarization/unmasked-test). exam).

Infants showed memory for faces when their faces were not covered at test, and whether or not the faces were covered during familiarization. However, regardless of the familiarity condition, when the test faces were masked, children did not show strong evidence of improved memory.

In addition, infants’ bias to look at the upper (eye) area was greater for the masked than for the naked face, although this difference was unrelated to memory performance.

In conclusion, although the presence of a face mask appears to affect infants’ processing and memory of faces, they are able to recognize familiar faces even without a mask.

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